The Passing Years, and How to Count Them


My family is enormously lucky because we live in a place that is green, and beautiful. Our house is surrounded by trees.

We’ve been in this house for 30 years. That seems so hard to believe. My husband Paul and I raised our three kids here. We’ve had two cats and five dogs at different times in this house.

Parts of the yard have been, at various times over the years, a baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a vegetable garden, a flower bed, a strawberry patch and a place to put the swings.

Now the kids are all grown up and on their own, and it’s time for us to start looking forward. In another ten or so years, we plan to sell this house and move someplace with less upkeep. It’s time.

With that thought in mind, we’re hiring someone to help clean up this huge yard and make things look neater and less overgrown. I have mixed feelings about it, isn’t that weird?

I walk around and I look at what is now a big rock buried in raspberry and blackberry vines. I remember thirty years ago, when that was the site of my first little garden. I planted “hens and chicks” and other succulents, thinking it would be a rock garden. I didn’t anticipate the encroachment of the woods. It didn’t occur to me that Mother Nature had her own plans.

The arborist is going to take down a tall, slender oak tree near our driveway. It is competing with other trees for sunlight and is now leaning toward our deck. It shades an entire section of lawn. Everything will look more open, more sunny, when it is gone.

But I remember one warm summer morning when that oak was about my height. I laid on the grass with our new puppy in my arms and looked at the sky through its leaves. That puppy is long gone now, crossed over the rainbow bridge in his old age. I look at that oak tree, and I remember his soft ears and his puppy smell. I don’t really want the tree to go. But it’s time.

There is a little grove of baby white pines that need to be taken out, too. They stand together, like a little family that has silently stepped out of the forest and into our yard. They silently watch the grass where my kids used to play “desert land.” They need to come down, but I will miss them.

I can count the passage of our family’s years by looking at the tree stumps that now stand in the yard. There’s the stump of a tree that once held a toddler’s swing. There is the stump of a pine that used to guard a squirrel nest.

Time passes, and we know we are aging. My mirror and my bones tell me that!

But I forget sometimes that this house and this yard are aging, too. It will be good to have it cleaned up, and to have the woods retreat back to where they belong.

Still, there is a little piece of me that wishes for something else. Perhaps it would be magic, I think, if we simply moved away and let the forest gently and slowly enfold the house where our children grew up. Let her cover it up and keep it safe, like a tender memory that can only be revisited in dreams.

Image: “Pine Tree and others” by scottc320 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

E Pluribus Unum


Here we are in the United States of America, in the year of our Lord, 2020. We are in an election year. We are in a year of record high temperatures around the globe.

And we are in the year when the world is grappling with a new and deadly disease for which there is neither a treatment nor a cure.

I wonder why our conversations online don’t reflect these facts? I wonder why the headlines aren’t focused on how to address any of these concerns?

I wonder.

Today I read about whether or not we need masks. I didn’t see a lot of factual information, and I didn’t see any ideas about how we might make the wearing of masks a more positive experience. I didn’t read much about making masks free or affordable.

What I did read is that people who wear masks are weak snowflakes who are buying into Bill Gates’ attempt to take over the world. I read that people who won’t wear masks are ignorant, selfish rednecks who want to kill all the old people.

Today I read stories and posts about whether or not Black lives matter in this country. I read about the question of whether or not racism exists. I read that the Black Lives Matter Movement is a Marxist attempt to take over the country. I read that every person who timidly states that they’re not racist is a history denying, ignorant self-centered privileged “Karen”.

We’re furious at each other about statues and about pieces of cloth and about words painted on city streets. We’re pouring all of our famous American ingenuity into meaningless memes that make the “other side” look stupid.

Fellow Americans: What the HELL are we doing???????

Here’s what I know.

A lot of radical lefties are in the ICU with COVID-19. They are in the same unit with a lot of right wing conservative MAGAs. They’re all on the same oxygen that keeps humans alive.

I know that a bunch of completely apolitical people have lost their jobs and their insurance and are scared to death of what’s coming next. I know that a bunch of political activists have lost their jobs and their insurance and are scared to death to think about next month.

You know who is at risk of COVID? White people. Also brown ones. And Asians. And dark black recent African immigrants. And Europeans. And Pacific Islanders and red heads and Puerto Ricans and Japanese and Bahamians and New Zealanders. Don’t forget Russians, Poles, Italians, Greeks, Egyptians, Tunisians and Siberian residents. People with glasses and people who run marathons. Singers and accountants and engineers and teachers and Grandmas and babies.

Every. Human. Being. Is. At. Risk.

Why aren’t we focused on how to make it better? Some of my very conservative family members are businessmen. They are creative and efficient. Why aren’t we seeing them come up with efficient solutions to help businesses stay open and stay safe? Is it because they’re too busy finding and sharing memes about “owning the libs”?

Some of my very liberal friends and family are artists and therapists and teachers. They are creative, imaginative and flexible. Why aren’t they publicly sharing ideas about how to maximize our human talent in ways that will support the community? Could it be because they are getting some weird pleasure out of finding and sharing memes about the stupidity of conservatives?

I don’t know.

I’m as guilty as anyone else, though, that I will admit.

Today I argued with my Uncle about the definition of “antifa”. My Uncle, who I have known and loved my entire life. My uncle, who is one of the funniest, most clever, most intelligent guys in the world. He is informed, he is smart, he is articulate. We completely disagree on political and economic issues, but so the hell what?

Why am I not asking him how he’d approach the reopening of businesses in this climate? Why am I wasting my time pointing fingers and arguing about which side’s vandals desecrated a truly sacred memorial?

I don’t know. I know that I’m scared. I know that I want this to be over. I know that I want to be able to hug my mom again, to kiss my sons again. I want to be with my friends and I want to know that this blessed earth is a safe place for my children to raise more children.

I’d like to find a way to remind my loved ones, conservative and liberal, that everyone is in the same boat and that the storm is raging. It doesn’t matter who is captain right now. It matters that all of us mere sailors start working together to bail her out, keep her steady, and get her back to shore.

The D’s and the R’s can call each other names all they want. Nancy and Chuck can point fingers at Mitch and Donnie all they want and vice versa.

But we, we Americans, we the people, we damn well better find a way to work together and stop our stupid bickering. If we don’t, this old boat is going to crash itself on the shoals and we are all going to go down into the endless deep together.

E pluribus unum.

Time to find our unum.

Oh, Poor, Poor Me


Well, jeez.

I am so tired.

I haven’t been this tired since I was 17 years old and had to endure the horror of working for SEVEN HOURS on a Saturday. I did that every week for months on end. And at the end of every single “all day” shift, I dragged my exhausted butt home where I collapsed in a heap until Mom served dinner and I could replenish my health before heading out for a night of fun with my friends.

Yeah, the COVID lockdown has reminded me of one fascinating fact of life:

No matter how much work you do in a day, it will always feel like it’s too much.

Consider this: when I was a high school student, I went to school for six hours a day. I did a little bit of homework every night. (cough, cough…well, it felt like more at the time).

Because I came from a hard working family, my parents had “encouraged me” to get an after school job. I was forced to spend a full TWELVE HOURS a week slaving at the local grocery store.

I didn’t hate the job (#cuteboys) but I did feel unbelievably tired every Sunday. Phew, poor me. School, plus friends, plus job….I was just wiped out.

Then I went to college. Hahahahah. I still didn’t study very much ( I majored in Russian studies, so I happily avoided any classes that would have taxed either my interest or my brain.) I had a couple of part time jobs to help me pay tuition, but none were particularly difficult. Still, I was so often just plain TIRED. Wow. College classes, a commute, a job? I was sure that I would expire at any moment.

Then I graduated, attended grad school and got my MS degree. Now I had a REAL job. An actual professional, bring-the-paperwork-home job. Wow. So much stress! So much work!

This went on for a couple of years before I had my first child. And then I had a couple more.

By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I had a full time job, a long commute, three kids, a house to manage and seven dinners a week to produce on command.

THAT was tired. THAT was a hard row to hoe. At that point in my life, you could have shaken me awake at 3 Am and asked me about the contents of our cabinets. I’d have been able to tell you exactly which foods, meds, clothes and supplies were there and which were on the “list”.

Those were the years when I’d dream of cooking a pot of pasta sauce. In my dream, I would look over my shoulder and see that in addition to my three kids and a couple of their friends, two of my students had appeared. In the dream, I’d open another can of tomatoes and add some spices, and just keep stirring. Then I’d look back and see four more students and a couple of their parents at my table. I’d add more to the pot, and keep on stirring.

Those were my really hard working days.

And they are far behind me now. Now I’m retired. My kids are grown and gone. Most days find me without enough to fill the hours.

So here’s my question:
Why do I still feel like some days are just such hard work?

For example, today I woke up at 8, showered and dressed, had my breakfast and read the news. Then I wrote a short article for Medium. At 10 I had a half hour Zoom violin lesson with my lovely and supportive teacher. I practiced for another half hour.

Then I paid the bills (on line. Both bills). I did a load of laundry. My Instacart order of groceries was delivered, and I put all four bags of food away.

At 2, I went to the bank, and then to our local farmer’s market where I bought a few things. I came home, planted my new thyme, and did a little weeding.

So.

By 4, I hadn’t actually done any real work. Why did my day feel so…..full? Why did I feel as if I’d done a bunch of hard work?

I don’t know.

All I can tell you is that I suddenly understand my 17 year old self, and I recognize the feeling of having done SO. MUCH. WORK.

It’s kind of funny.

Anyway, it’s almost 8 PM. Time for me to head in for a good night’s sleep.

Dad Made Things


My Dad was a pretty typical father of the 50s, 60s and beyond. He went to work while Mom stayed at home with the six kids. He earned the money. He was the provider.

Dad came home every evening right around 6pm. Dinner was just about ready, and we were around the table. A drink was made, Dad took a sip, then settled down for dinner with the brood.

He was a good provider. He was a breadwinner.

But that isn’t what I remember tonight, as I think about Father’s Day and what my Dad meant to me.

What I remember about my Dad was that he made things.

Just for fun, just for a sense of creativity, my Dad made things.

When I was a very little girl, he made pancakes. He did it every Saturday morning while encouraging my Mom to sleep in a bit. Dad would get up with all of us, and he’d make batch after batch of pancakes. We’d eat them up while watching “The Little Rascals” on tv.

As I got older, Dad made things like shelves, and picture frames and other small wooden items. On the weekend, Dad would go down to his workshop in the garage, where he’d make step-stools and Confirmation Crosses and bookshelves.

After his retirement, Dad made more decorative items, just for fun. My parents had a beautiful in-ground pool, and Dad made planters for the flowers that Mom placed around the patio.

When my family was young, and settling into our first and only home, Dad helped my husband to build a shed to store the garden tools.

Dad isn’t here with us anymore. He went on to the next step back in 2008.

But tonight, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day without being able to hug our kids, I am thinking of my Dad and of his legacy of creation.

I’m thinking a lot about the fact that although I am his daughter, I don’t really take after my Dad. I don’t know how to hammer a nail or saw a board or make a shed. I’m not good at math, the way that he was. I don’t have Dad’s sense of detail and his ability to create logical, sequential plans. That skill is shared by my sister, but not by me.

That thought made me a little bit sad today.

Then I took a walk around my garden. And I thought a bit.

Maybe I’m stretching it, maybe I’m making it up, but it seems to me that in a different sense, I do share Dad’s ability to “make things.”

I have made a garden out of a yard that was once completely wild. Slowly, step by step, blossom by blossom, I have turned my wild property into a pretty, fragrant, welcoming space.

Making something out of nothing is perhaps a skill, or a desire, that I do share with my Dad.

Maybe the bread that I make from my own sourdough starter is a way for me to create something, too.

What I know is that I miss my Dad. I miss his smile, his humor, his hugs. I even miss his rigid sense of right and wrong. I miss his love. I miss the things that he made out of nothing.

So tomorrow morning I will walk in my garden. I’ll salute my Dad as I admire the coreopsis growing in the goose planter that he built. I’ll take a lawn chair out of the shed that he built in our yard.

And I’ll water the wild roses and irises and herbs that I have planted here in what was once a piece of woodland.

I’ll think of my Dad and I’ll treasure the small ways in which I am like him.

Is This Offensive?


Does it even matter what I think?

It seems more than a little bit odd to me to hear people out there arguing about what is offensive and what isn’t.

It’s especially strange to hear white people, who make up pretty much my entire social circle, arguing about what makes something offensive to black Americans.

Is Aunt Jemima’s image on the syrup bottle “offensive” or is it just a meaningless picture? How about Uncle Ben? Is a statue of General Lee offensive? Or is it a monument to a cultural history?

As is so often true, when I think about the big questions that trouble adults, I turn to my experience as a classroom teacher to guide me.

I’m remember one particular year of teaching fifth grade. My students were a sweet combination of innocent and sassy. As ten year olds, they were still gentle and tender. They liked me, I liked all of them, and we had a good rapport. But as almost-adolescents, they’d begun to test some of my limits. A few kids had tried out “bad words” in the classroom, and we were discussing why some words were offensive.

One of the best parts about teaching kids this age is watching when one or two of them get that glint of mischief in their eyes and try to push the envelope a bit. In this case, a few of the kids wanted to experience the thrill of saying the forbidden words, so they started to ask me, in whispers, which words to avoid.

“Is ‘shit’ a swear?” (Giggle). “Can I say ‘dammit’?” (Giggle)

I realized pretty quickly that it was time for us to regroup and talk. I gathered the kids on the rug in our “meeting area”.

“OK,” I began. “I am not going to give you a list of acceptable and unacceptable words. There are millions of words in the English language and we aren’t going to check each one.”

I looked around the circle at all the eager faces and bright eyes.

NOTE: If you ever want to capture the attention of 25 ten year olds, tell them you’re going to talk about swears.

“A swear is a word that hurts someone. It’s a word that makes someone feel bad, or makes them uncomfortable. Even if it’s a word or a phrase that you don’t mind at all, if it hurst someone else, you don’t say it.”

They were thoughtful for a minute. A hand was raised.

“So is ‘stupid’ a swear?”

I let the kids talk about it. They realized that they knew the answer. If I say, “This stupid shoe won’t stay tied,” then it isn’t offensive. If I call my classmate “stupid”, then it is.”

I’m sure they were a little disappointed that we weren’t going to try out various spellings of the f- word, but my point had been made.

Next I asked the kids to do me a favor. I told them that sometimes we say or do things that offend others and we don’t know it. I told them that I would appreciate it if they’d tell me any time I said or did something that hurt them or offended them.

One sweet, kind little girl raised her hand. I was surprised, because I couldn’t imagine what I might have done to offend her. I asked her to tell me what was wrong.

“Could you please not say “God”? My family goes to church, and my mom says it’s wrong to say “Oh, my God”, but sometimes you say it.”

She was right. I said that phrase a LOT.

But I looked into the deep brown eyes of my trusting student, and I promised her that I would do my absolute best never to say it in front of her again.

“God” was an offensive word to this religious little girl, when I said it in that phrase.

The kids understood the lesson and we never had to revisit the question of what words were offensive.

If your action, your logo, your statue, your language, your clothing hurts someone else, you can’t keep using it.

Thanks, children. As usual, you show us the way.

Tonight I Feel Safe


This is a silly comment, really. I live in a rural community. I am at home, in my nice house with my dear husband of 42 years. There’s barely any crime here. The COVID rate is very low.

But still.

I live in this world. I live in this crazy, out of control world. I am aware that going grocery shopping or getting a haircut can put me and those I love at risk. I try to stay safe. I order online and I wear my mask when the FedEx comes to the door with my case of wine.

We wash our hands. We disinfect. We are secure.

But I’m still afraid.

And I watch the news. I see the outbreaks of racial violence and the riots in the streets. Even though I live pretty much in the wilderness, I am worried about the wide world around me.

But a funny thing happened today. Something that has really caught me off guard and gotten me to thinking.

Here in North Central Massachusetts, the weather has been very dry, and pretty warm. Today, though, the warm jumped itself right up to hotter-than-hell.

I played outside with my two grandkids this morning, running through the sprinkler, jumping into the tiny blow-up pool, watering the herbs and flowers. We came in and had lunch, and the little guy went down for a well deserved nap.

As I sat in my living room with my granddaughter, the temperature really started to rise. The heat got worse, the humidity rose, the sweat popped up on both of our heads.

It was…..gross. We didn’t like it. Little Ellie and I were NOT HAPPY. So we did what happens pretty rarely in this part of the world.

We turned on the window AC unit in the living room.

We closed the living room and dining room windows, shut the skylight and let the machine do it’s magic.

Within an hour, the house was cool, we had stopped sweating, and Nonni’s three months of ignored hair growth had dried out a bit.

By dinner time, the kids had gone home with Mom and Dad and Papa and I made our dinner. In an unusual homage to the heat, I made the whole dinner indoors, instead of out on the grill. I saluted our AC unit as I did it.

We had dinner. We watched the news. We chatted about our day and did the dishes and got settled down to read our respective books.

All the while, that AC unit kept chugging. And we did not sweat or curse the heat.

Which brings me to this moment, tonight, as the sun sets on a gloriously beautiful summer day in New England.

I do not want to shut off my AC unit, even though the air outside has cooled. I do not want to open my windows, in spite of the sweet smells of wild rose and honeysuckle and peony that I know would come wafting in.

I do not want to touch the world outside of these four walls tonight. Instead, I want to stay safely wrapped in my faux safe air flow, pretending that the world of deadly viruses and deadly hatred cannot reach me while I sleep.

I know that I am only pretending.

Even so, I will go to bed tonight with the window units running.

My Personal Journey of Evolving


The events that are unfolding across this country, and across the world, have me humbled and sad.

As I have cheered on the activists and protestors who march for Black Lives Matter, I have started to question my own history. I’ve been trying to think about all of the ways that I have failed to be anti-racist. I have spent my life in a white bubble, with virtually no black friends or colleagues, I am struggling to find my way, even as I commit myself to making a difference.

I don’t know what to say, or what to do. But I do have an analogy that is helpful to me, and that might clarify things for my white friends.

This story goes back to my very first days as a public school student. I was a nice girl. I was kind, and friendly and a good student. I followed the teacher’s directions.

When I was in first grade, I was friendly with a boy in my class. He was a boy who went to my church, and who was one of the members of my “advanced reading” group. I don’t remember really thinking much about him. We were smart. We liked to read. He had a constant grin on his face, and I thought that he was “nice.”

We were in the same class again in second grade. We were both good at math, although even at that tender age, I understood that he had a sense for the problems that I didn’t possess. We once again spent time together in the “advanced reading group.” We got to read the really good books.

By the time third grade came around, and I found myself once again in class with this boy, I had begun to notice that he was a little bit “different” from the rest of us. He still came to school every day with that wide grin, but I started to notice that his clothes were slightly out of style. I knew that his parents were a little bit different from the rest of the middle class suburban families who attended our church. His Mom wore clothes and make up that looked to have come from the 1940s. Unlike my own beautiful and stylish Mother, she always seemed, even to me, just a little bit desperate for friends in town.

I remember this boy for his continuing academic excellence, but my mind is even clearer when I remember his enduring cheerfulness and his pleasure at being in school.

He was tall. Taller than the rest of the third graders. He was heavy. He was physically ungainly and awkward.

This made him a target, as did his constant success and his never ending grin.

One of my clearest memories from my elementary school years is the time when our third grade class was asked to complete a “forward roll” in gym class. I remember the echoing sounds of the gym, and the benches that lined the room. I remember the smell of the gym mats and the recessed lights set into the ceiling.

Mostly I remember us taking our turns and doing our “forward rolls.” One after another, our nine year old bodies morphed into pillbugs and we rolled ourselves over.

All of us except one.

The awkward, roundly formed smart boy in my class. My one time friend. He was unable to complete the move. He tried. He tried again. He was alone on the mat in the center of the gym, the increasingly frustrated teacher at his side.

His classmates, including me, sat on the bench along the wall. I remember the snickers. I remember the giggles. I remember the boy on the mat, his cheeks growing ever more flushed, his grin becoming a grimace of desperation.

He never did complete that move.

We went back to our classroom.

And the snickers and giggles and jokes continued.

I remember that day, although it was well over a half century ago. I remember it because I didn’t do one single thing to make the situation better for this boy that had been my friend.

Nobody had ever told me, back in 1964, that bystanders are a part of the problem of bullying. Nobody had ever looked me in the eye and said, “When you see someone being mistreated, you need to stand up and call it out. You need to protect and defend the person being victimized.”

But you know what?

I knew it anyway.

I knew that what I was seeing was wrong. I knew that it was cruel. I watched the open hearted smile on the face of my friend turn into a desperate attempt to find himself a place in our small group.

I knew it, but I never said a single thing to make it any better.

So. I could plausibly tell myself that what happened in my third grade classroom was not my fault. I could tell myself that I was not a bully. I never said a single mean thing. I don’t remember joining in the laughter.

Who, me?

No, I am not a bully. I’m nice.

And for me that is the metaphor that I find relevant today, as I watch the Black Lives Matter protests that are unfolding everywhere.

The easy thing would be to reassure myself that I am most definitely not racist. I have never used that ugly N- word. I have never said anything cruel to a black person, or kept that person out of a job.

But if I’m honest, I’d have to admit that I have been a passive, complacent bystander for all of the six decades of my life.

I haven’t stood up for my non-white neighbors and fellow citizens.

I have believed that it was enough not to be mean.

I think back on my first grade pal, the boy who should have grown up to discover some advanced scientific ideas I couldn’t even pronounce. I think about my failure to pull him aside and tell him that a stupid forward roll was pointless and that he was worth a lot more than an “A” in gym.

I took no action. I was a passive observer.

This time around, as my fellow citizens are crying out in desperation, I need to find a way to take some real action. I need to do better. I need to be a better person.

I’ll do it. I’ll do it in the memory of my friend, the boy who was failed by this friend.

Trump’s Leadership Style.


Wait. Is there a leadership style??

You know, I used to be a teacher. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the different learning styles that people exhibit as they go through life. There is all sorts of research into the whole right brain/left brain approach. There’s the math/language description and the sequential vs. gestalt learner approach.

I’m fascinated by all of this. And the neurology that underlies these learning differences.

I used all of these different perspectives as I assessed and taught kids over the years.

I’m also very interested in the different “leadership styles” that are exhibited by those who take positions of authority. I have done a lot of reading, research and rumination on this particular topic. I became fascinated by the idea of leadership styles when I experienced a wonderful leader, a very good leader and an absolutely appalling leader within a five year period.

What I have learned through my personal experiences and my study is that we can often break leadership style down to two distinct patterns.

PATTERN #1: The micromanager. This is the supervisor/leader who double checks the number of paper clips that each department is using. It’s the school principal who wants to see which color sticky notes the teacher is using on her teaching charts.

PATTERN #2: The laissez faire leader. This administrator may very well set the tone for what the staff should do, but they will let everybody take responsibility for their own decisions. When things go really well, this leader points to the staff member who created the success. When things go wrong, this leader justifiably denies any responsibility. “I let them fly, if they crash, it’s not my fault.”

So what am I to make of the “leadership style” of our current president?

All I can say is……I dunno. I got nuthin’.

Every time I try to listen to Donald Trump, I find myself confused. Not only does he continuously torture the English language, he also constantly shifts from foot to foot in terms of his leadership.

Sometimes the President insists that he is the micromanager. “No one can handle this the way I can.” “No one knows more about XXXX than I do.” “I alone can fix it.”

But in his very next breath, he insists “I had no idea” about what was going on. “I take no responsibility.”

My head swims.

Today is a perfect example of Trump’s bipolar approach to leadership. First he seemed to state that he was the man-in-charge, the decider, the capo-di-tutti-capi. But almost immediately after that, he took the position of “I didn’t do it! I know nothing! Don’t blame me!”

It made me picture all of my elementary school students, who were so quick to place a forefinger on their nose when I asked, “Who dumped the paint into the toilet?”

Let me point out the actual quotes from the leader/notleader.

Last Friday evening, the District of Columbia was roiled by loud, sometimes violent protests. People were marching in the streets, heading for the White House. The DC police responded to the anger of the crowd. Tear gas was thrown, rubber bullets were fired, bottles and bricks were hurled. Fires were set not far from the White House.

In the midst of this scary outburst of rage, the Secret Service apparently did their jobs, and brought the President down to the safe room (or “bunker”) in the White House.

Of COURSE they did. For good or ill, he is the actual POTUS and his life has to be protected. So down to the bunker he went.

Naturally, his critics laughed and made fun of him. #Bunkerboy and #Bunkerbaby were trending on social media. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Then on Monday evening, Trump and his staff cleared out all of the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park outside of the White House so he could stand in front of a historic Episcopal church and hold up a bible. The whole thing was horrific at worst and incredibly awkward at best.

So here is what the nominal “leader” of our country had to say.

In terms of having been taken to the bunker, to insure the safety of the President, Trump claimed that he only went down to the bunker “during the day, when there was no problem!” He claimed that he was there for only a “tiny bit of time”. Best of all, he is trying convince us that he went to the bunker just to “inspect” it.

As in, “I am a micromanager as a leader. My hand is in everything. I would never allow a room in the White House to just sit there unless I personally inspect it to make sure that it is up to my very high standards.”

M’kay.

But here’s where I get confused.

Today Trump was also asked about the way that his staff (our Attorney General, our Secretary of Defense) used tear gas, metal shields and flash-bang grenades to clear a park of protesters. Those peaceful protestors included several members of the local clergy. It was a full half hour before the curfew was set to begin.

Even so, police marched into Lafayette Park and forced out every single protestor/pastor/civilian. They did this so that Trump could march across the street from the White House, hold up a bible, and claim the moral high ground as our “law and order” president.

Naturally, since peaceful protestors and religious leaders dislike being shot at and pepper sprayed, there was an outcry against what had happened.

How did our “I’m the leader” president respond?

He said that he had no idea there were protesters out there in the park! He insisted that nobody tells him these things! How could he know?

Um,

Yes, this is the exact opposite leadership style from what Trump showed us when he claimed he was inspecting the bunker.

I mean, really.

Let’s think.

Is it actually possible that one man, one leader, could simultaneously be inspecting the room where he might someday be sent for safety, and yet not know that right outside of his window hundreds of protesters were gathered?

I don’t buy it.

Nuh, uh.

What I think is this:

This man has no leadership style. None.

What he has is a self-preservation style. He finds it perfectly plausible to claim that the nation is under so much threat that he needs to call out the military to restore order, while at the same time claiming that he is totally unaware of the huge crowd chanting and singing right outside his window.

What I think is that Donald Trump has no concept of truth or fact. He pulls and shapes reality to fit his personal needs and denies the existence of any event that he dislikes.

That is no kind of leadership.

Peace Without Justice?


The picture above is not a picture of me. I’m a chubby, grey haired white grandma. The picture above is not one of my sweet grandchildren. They are three little white kids, with white skin.

But these two are the people on my mind today. Everyone who shares the same tone of skin has been on my mind. Every fellow citizen of mine who shares the same curly hair has been on my mind. Every American who wakes up in the morning as part of what I’ve grown up thinking of as “the minority community”, that’s who is on my mind.

Last night I watched the news. I saw people marching, shouting, protesting in the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I saw fire and tear gas and glass breaking.

“Oh, no,” was my first thought. “Oh, no.”

I’ve seen this scene before. I’ve seen an unarmed black American dying at the hands of an American police officer or at the hands of a self-appointed patriotic vigilante. I know what happens. It’s a repeating playbook. At first white America reacts with outrage at the death. We shake our heads and tell ourselves with great sincerity that “something must change.”

Then the friends, neighbors and family of the dead black American take to the street. They are joined by other angry, horrified, sad, terrified black Americans. They are loud. They are profane. Someone throws a rock, and tear gas flies. A fire is set, a building it breached, people take things, damage is done.

And the reaction, every damn time, is “I understand that rage, but rioting is not the way to make change.”

I agree!

I’m a nice, middle class retired teacher lady living in a small, rural town. I don’t think burning buildings is a good idea. I don’t think that violence is a healthy choice.

But as I lay awake in my bed last night, I tossed and I turned and I pictured beautiful young Americans like the two pictured above. And I asked myself,

“If violence isn’t the right path, then what is?”

Should our black fellow citizens stage sit-ins in public places? Just some quiet, passive actions to show that people are unhappy?

I realized that those actions have already been taken. Some half a century ago, brown skinned Americans sat down on busses and at restaurants and in public offices to show that they wanted to be treated equally. That held sit-ins. They were entirely peaceful, even when they were dragged to jail.

Black Americans are still being murdered in public by the police and those who wish they were police. So that technique doesn’t work.

Maybe, I thought, we should find some highly educated, highly successful, brilliant brown skinned fellow citizens to speak up and express the unfairness of our racial situation.

Ah, but that, too has been done. Over and over and over again. Martin King, Malcolm X, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Angela Davis, Medgar Evers, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and on and on and on. Great artists, great leaders, great orators, true American treasures.

But dark skin can still get an unarmed American shot to death for jogging.

So what could our African American brothers and sisters do to express their pain? We don’t want violence, but….what?

Remember when this young athlete decided to peacefully and silently protest the deaths of so many black Americans?


I do. I remember the reaction when he knelt during the National Anthem. The President of these United States of America went public in his attacks. He said that the football player should have been suspended for quietly protesting the deaths of his fellow Americans. The Vice President walked out of a football game when Colin and some of his teammates knelt in gentle protest.

So.

Peaceful protest has achieved…..nothing.

There were “Black Lives Matter” marches and signs and protests. The answer was a rush of “Oh, yeah? Well, Blue lives matter!” and “All lives matter!” Both of which completely missed the point, and neither of which did anything to stop the flow of blood on our streets.

George Floyd was still murdered right there in broad daylight on an American street, surrounded by American citizens who watched in horror as his life was snuffed out by an American white guy in an official uniform.

I tossed last night, and I turned. I found no answers.

I don’t know what it will finally take for this country to break out of its racist history and begin to move forward toward a just and loving place where every single American life is treasured and valued and protected.

I pulled the sheet up over my shoulders last night, looking for some comfort on that steamy night.

Suddenly I saw the face of Tamir Rice in front of me. I saw his smiling, little boy face. I thought about my white sons playing guns one sunny day at Universal Studios, with none of us giving it a thought.

I saw the face of Treyvon Martin, walking on a rainy night with a pocket full of skittles. I thought about the days when my teenaged boys and their white friends would walk the streets of our little town at all hours of the night, and how once in a while the police would pull up beside them and urge to go on home to bed.

I thought about how I’d feel if they had been killed. I thought about how I might feel if I’d spent my lifetime asking, begging, praying and working for justice for people who look like my children.

And I realized that if I had done all that, and yet my sons, my nephews, my friends, my neighbors were still being recklessly killed while jogging, shopping, sleeping, sitting in a car or committing a misdemeanor?

Well. You can be sure that even with my creaky joints and fading eyes, my grayhair and my wrinkles, I would absolutely, positively march my old white ass out there and set the world on fire.

No justice? No peace.

Image: “Beautiful man” by rigogarcia1575 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lily of the Valley


When I was about 8 years old, I discovered the huge swath of lily-of-the-valley. They were growing all along the driveway at my grandparent’s house.

The house was in a relatively urban town just outside of Boston. As I look back at it now, from the vantage point of my current rural life, it seems like a house in a big city.

But it was the home that my grandparents bought after leaving the inner city life of Boston during the Great Depression and the Second World War. For them, as immigrants from Sicily in the days of the Industrial Revolution, this house was like paradise. It had a porch, a yard, and even a garage.

I remember that the right side of the house, the side away from the driveway, had a fence to separate it from the neighbor’s. I remember that fence because it was lined with a row of lovely roses, each one carefully pruned and shaped, each a different shade of red or pink. They were gorgeous, all of them, and my grandfather was so proud of them. His bride, my Nana, was named Rose, and he grew them to show her his love.

But even more than the roses, I remember the blossoms that grew along the neglected driveway on the other side of the house. It was a long, narrow path, marking the border between the houses on that suburban street. My grandparents’ side of the drive was line with huge, towering, pines. They were spaced about 20 feet apart, and each had a strong, straight trunk. I thought of them as guardians when I was a child. I felt that each one watched over our Nana and Grampa and the home that held our family’s heart.

I loved those big trees.

And then one day, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I wandered out to where the trees grew. It must have been early May. I found thousands and thousands of tiny, perfect, beautiful white blossoms, each one dangling along a thin green thread.

The smell of them was intoxicating. I had never in my life seen or smelled or even imagined anything so perfect. I remember that I picked one delicate stem, so carefully, and ran inside to my Nana.

“Nana! What is this? Where did it come from??”

She told me that it was called “Lily-of-the-valley” and that someone had planted a few of them at the edge of the driveway before she and Grampa had bought the house. She explained that they were a kind of “wild flower” and that they’d spread along the entire length of the drive, making a sweet carpet under those huge pines.

I was amazed, enchanted, captivated. “Lily-of-the-valley” was such a magical name! But where was the valley? I could only see the thin strip of land along the driveway. I saw no valley.

But I imagined one.

I created an imaginary valley full of grass and wildflowers and those gloriously fragrant bells of lilly.

For the next decade, at least, I went back to revel in the glorious magic of those little blossoms. I played along the drive when I was a girl. I imagined tiny fairies, dressed in silver gossamer, dancing under the lilies. As I got older, I’d pick a bouquet of those fragrant blooms, knowing that their magic was fleeting.

I remember holding my baby girl, my first born child, and showing her the rows and rows of beautiful lily-of-the-valley.

And when my Nana died, at the accomplished age of 99, I went to her house and I dug up some of those tender flowers. I brought them to my house, in a more rural part of Massachusetts, and I put those ten little shoots into the ground.

Flowers can be a legacy. These are surely a reminder and a marker of my Nana and her life.

My garden is now full of lily-of-the-valley. They burst into bloom at the same time as our lilacs, filling the air around our house with pure heaven.

And every time I walk along my walkway, I think of Nana. I think of those big pines, and of the fairies that I imagined making tiny houses under the arching stems of those lily-of-the-valley.

Yesterday I brought some shoots of those glorious flowers to my daughter, in the new home that she has made for her young family.

I love knowing that my Nana’s love, and her grace, and her natural strength and beauty, will pass through me to my daughter, and hopefully then to hers.

I lie in my bed tonight, breathing deeply, taking in the perfume of those magical blooms.

Life goes on, and on and never stops.

The lily-of-the-valley is my proof.